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UN REFUGEE AGENCY ALARMED AT CIVILIAN LOSS OF LIFE IN SOMALIA’S CAPITAL

By UN

7 September - The United Nations refugee agency today voiced alarm over worsening security in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, where fighting between forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and armed Islamists has killed more than 230 civilians and wounded at least 400 others during the past two weeks.

An estimated 23,000 people were displaced by the clashes pitting Government forces against Al-Shabaab insurgents during the same period, according to Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “So far this year over 200,000 civilians are estimated to have fled their homes,” she told reporters in Geneva.

“People who have been able to reach northern Somalia and neighbouring countries are mostly arriving on foot and by small buses and travelling without shelter. They tell our staff that the streets of Mogadishu are completely deserted and that people are too afraid to leave their houses,” Ms. Fleming added. “In these dangerous and difficult conditions, aid distributions are becoming rare and those who venture out are risking their lives,” she said.

Those fleeing were reportedly giving away their possessions in exchange for seats in vehicles going out of the city, according to UNHCR, which said the refugees faced further security risks en route to the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast, and to neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya.

Some 7,300 Somalia have reached Yemen by boat this year, where they have spoken of going through numerous checkpoints manned by armed groups before reaching the towns and villages along country's Gulf of Aden coast to board boats that smuggled them to Yemen.

A total of 37,000 Somali refugees have entered Kenya so far this year, down by roughly a third in comparison to the first eight months of 2009, according to Ms. Fleming. However, UNHCR registered 6,500 new Somali refugees in Kenya in August, the highest monthly total since June last year.

Those who make it to the Kenyan border and register at the Dadaab complex of refugee camps have said that that many people were staying in makeshift camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia because they feared being forcibly recruited and mistreated by militias. Further more, many cannot afford to pay for transport to the border and heavy rainfall has made some roads impassable.

Ethiopia is the only country in the region showing a continuing increase in the number arriving Somali refugees. More than 20,000 have sought safety there this year, bringing the total Somali refugee population in that country to almost 76,000.

Overall, almost 68,000 Somalis have fled this year to countries in the region. As of the end of August, there were more than 614,000 Somali refugees outside the country and at least 1.4 million IDPs inside the country.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, today begun a three-day visit to Kenya to review a green-energy initiative at the Kakuma refugee camp in the country's northwest and assess progress on the expansion of the overcrowded Dadaab camps near the Somali border.

In Kakuma, Mr. Guterres will view a pilot project that aims to deliver electricity to camp residents, schools, hospitals and other community services, while introducing solar and wind-powered energy.

The project, being implemented by the Clinton Global Initiative, UNHCR and the Portuguese energy company EDP, is the first of its kind in a refugee camp in the world. If successful, UNHCR will consider replicating the model throughout Africa and elsewhere for the benefit of refugees and displaced persons.

Tomorrow, Mr. Guterres will visit Dadaab to evaluate progress on the extension of the Ifo section of the camps. The first phase of the expansion will allow the transfer of 40,000 refugees from the most congested areas of the camps.

Dadaab was established in the 1990s to host 90,000 refugees. It is now home to nearly 300,000 mostly Somali refugees.